Mookie Betts, meet The Babe.
Betts was already doing a heck of a Babe Ruth impersonation before hitting his first home run of this postseason in the Dodgers' 8-3 win over the Rays in Game 1 of the World Series at Globe Life Field on Tuesday, part of an epic night at the plate and on the basepaths for the man who has been driving Los Angeles' dangerous offense all season.
It was quite the pivot, after Betts’ defense made up for a relatively quiet offensive showing in the National League Championship Series. He made brilliant catch after brilliant catch in right field to help the Dodgers fight back against the Braves.
“He's a superstar talent, but he does all the little things right. And you can really learn from that when a guy's that good and he just wants to win,” Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said. “He just continues to do the small things that go unnoticed by a lot of people.”
Then Bellinger reconsidered. Betts had just starred on baseball’s biggest stage, after all.
“Maybe not [unnoticed],” Bellinger said, “but it's really special.”
“He does things on the baseball field that not many people can do,” Clayton Kershaw said, “and he does it very consistently, which I think separates him from a lot of guys. We've got a lot of guys like that, which is crazy, but we've got a lot of guys doing special things right now.”
Here are some of the ways Betts impacted World Series Game 1:
• Betts took a walk from Rays starter Tyler Glasnow to start the Dodgers’ game-breaking, four-run fifth inning, and he was just getting started. Betts stole second and third base before scoring, becoming the first player since Ruth in 1921 -- another player famously traded away by the Red Sox -- to walk and steal two bases in the same inning of a World Series game.
• Since Betts’ second stolen base was part of a double steal with Corey Seager, the Dodgers became the first World Series team in 108 years -- since the New York Giants in Game 6 in 1912 -- to steal three bases in the same inning.
“I mean, obviously, you know they’ve got two good catchers who can throw the ball, but I think that was a time and place that I had to try to get to second right there," Betts said. "Then, once I got to second, I had to try to get to third, especially with Seags [also stealing] to stay out of a double play, and make it easier on our guys to at least scratch across a run.”
• When Betts homered leading off the sixth, he became only the second player in history with a home run and two stolen bases in a World Series game. The other was the Phillies’ Chase Utley, also against the Rays in Game 1 in 2008.
• Betts, who finished with two hits, became the first player in World Series history to homer, steal two bases and score two runs in a single game. It was only the fifth such game in postseason history, putting Betts on a list with Jose Reyes (2006 NLCS Game 6), Reggie Sanders (1995 NL Division Series Game 2), Bert Campaneris (1973 American League Championship Series Game 2) and Tommie Agee (1969 NLCS Game 2).
The homer was Betts’ second career homer in the postseason. Both were in Kershaw starts. Betts homered for the Red Sox off the Dodgers lefty in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series. On Tuesday, Betts’ homer backed Kershaw’s fine start against the Rays.
“The pressure Mookie puts on the other team is huge,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. “We’ve felt it before in the World Series. He brings a different element to the game for us.”
That was most evident on the basepaths. After patiently taking a walk from Glasnow, who walked six batters in 4 1/2 innings, Betts stole second with Seager at the plate, then Betts stole third on Justin Turner’s strikeout -- the Dodgers’ second double steal featuring Betts in the lead and Seager trailing this month. When Max Muncy followed with a bouncer to first base, Betts had a perfect secondary lead, allowing him to break home for a headfirst slide ahead of Yandy Díaz’s throw. The alert play gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead that grew to 6-1 before the Rays finally escaped the inning.
“Yandy made a great play, but Mookie -- just a tremendous jump,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
It was one of those little things Bellinger was talking about. All three times he advanced on that trip around the bases, Betts’ secondary lead (measured when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand) was 3-5 feet above average, per Statcast:
Steal of second
Betts’ secondary lead: 25 feet
MLB average on an attempted steal of second: 21.9 feet
Steal of third
Betts’ secondary lead: 34.4 feet
MLB average on an attempted steal of third: 30 feet
Play at the plate
Betts’ secondary lead: 20.1 feet
MLB average secondary lead from third: 15.5 feet
“I'm just trying to touch home,” Betts said. “However I get there is how I get there. But I'm going to be aggressive on the basepaths.”
Each of the Dodgers’ contributors on Tuesday was asked to identify their favorite Betts moment from Game 1. Kershaw and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pointed to the opposite-field home run. Bellinger and Barnes liked the double steal.
For Betts, it was racing home on contact. He credited the Rays for playing it right, but said, “It all kind of unfolded in a good way.”
“It just shows that we don't have to hit home runs to be successful,” Betts said.
One base at a time, and one step closer to the World Series championship the Dodgers have long been denied.
“The thought was maybe [there was] a little carryover effect from all of the emotions we went through, the highs and lows of the last series,” Betts said. “I mean, I think we all know why we're here: to win the World Series. And that's what we proved today.”